A very common question I receive from parents is, "How do I know when my baby is ready for sleep coaching?" There are so many factors that go into a successful attempt at improving your baby or toddler's sleep, so I want to help you explore them in detail a bit.
After working with thousands of families, I've found that the more comfortable families are with their decision and plan forward, the better the results. Each and every time!
So, let’s talk about all of the things you want to consider when trying to choose the best time for sleep coaching with your little one:
Are they a newborn?
Newborns do two things that are distinctly related to being newborn and are signs that your baby is still too young to really to benefit from any formal sleep coaching. First, they tend to feed frequently throughout the day and night - not really making a distinction between the two. Newborns will tend to feed every 2-3 hours around the clock. Also, they tend to keep to "routines" rather than schedules with predictable and consistent naps. Now, some babies will always need help establishing a consistent schedule BUT if your baby is starting to spread out their night feedings (or even drop some on their own) and also beginning to develop a consistent nap schedule - with nap times you can count on or naps that are naturally setting and/or your baby is moving to an earlier bedtime, then these are all clear signs that your baby may be ready for coaching.
Next, has your baby lost their newborn reflexes yet? In particular the Moro reflex - the one that causes their arms and legs to flail seemingly out of nowhere - should be fading before you start to sleep coach. There are multiple reasons why waiting until the Moro reflex has faded helps to improve your sleep coaching plan. First, it means that your baby is nearing 4 months (the typical age when babies can begin to self soothe), but also without the moro reflex your baby is less likely to need to be swaddled. Swaddling while sleep coaching can be tough because many babies will cry more when their hands are bound in the swaddle and they aren’t able to learn to soothe with their hands.
Is your baby showing signs of self soothing during the day?
Most experts will agree that babies typically begin to self soothe between 4-6 months of age. However, if they are more persistent or sensitive in nature then they may not be self soothing yet, but they are much more likely to be able to learn when they are between 4-6 months of age.
Signs of self soothing would be if they use their fingers to suck or rub their face - or can calm themselves down in other ways that don't involve you. For instance, if they get upset on a car ride and you can't tend to them because you're driving or when you’re doing bath time with your toddler and can’t be close by to tend to them, are they are to calm down or soothe themselves, even for just a bit? If so, their self soothing skills are emerging and can likely be increasingly improved with practice.
As a mini step, begin to wait a few minutes when your baby wakes in the middle of the night. The baby monitor is both a blessing and a curse, but I promise you not every little whimper needs to be addressed! Research shows that parents who give their babies even a minute of time alone when they wake, are significantly more likely to be sleeping through the night by 12 months. So, go ahead and give your baby a chance. Often, they will surprise you and fall back to sleep.
Is your baby near a regression?
My favorite time to sleep coach is around 6 months. This is because they are firmly in between two very disruptive regressions. Babies will typically experience sleep regressions around 4 months, sometime between 7-9 months and again around 18 months (with other, less likely ones related to naps around 12 months and 2 years). If your baby is near a regression, but you’re struggling and need to make a change quickly, it’s ok! I’m only speaking in terms of ideals here so you can consider all of the factors.
Have sleep props/associations become a crutch?
When your baby is a newborn, sleep props like rocking/feeding/swaddling/etc are great ways to promote healthy sleep patterns. But as your baby gets older, you will notice that they no longer NEED them like they used to, even if it’s definitely what they still WANT. For instance, is your baby waking frequently to have the pacifier replaced or waking every 2-3 hours to be fed despite being older than 3-4 months and growing well? Then, it’s likely that these are sleep props that are no longer needed and could be removed or improved through sleep coaching.
Is it a good time for your family?
Consistency is THE biggest factor in creating a sleep coaching success so I always recommend families take a look at the bigger picture and see if that’s possible for them right now. Will you be traveling in the next few weeks? Do you have visitors coming? Big work plans? There is typically no “perfect” time to coach, but there are definitely times that are better than others.
Are YOU ready?
Sleep coaching is a big undertaking - especially if your baby is more spirited in nature. And you truly do have to be consistent to see real progress. So, are you really ready? No matter how “easy” or “challenging” your baby’s temperament, there are bound to be some rough nights before things improve. Also, is your partner ready? Often, I see families fail (or fail to start) because both parents are not on the same page. If either of you have reservations about sleep coaching, then it’s important to address those up front. If you haven’t already, listen to Episode 2 of the Mommy SOS Podcast where I discuss 10 different reasons why healthy sleep should be a priority (including the science behind whether sleep coaching will harm your baby)
Finally, have you checked in with your pediatrician?
Before beginning any sleep coaching, it's important that you've checked in with your pediatrician and ruled out any medical reasons why sleep coaching is not recommend. No matter what, it is always a smart idea to get the go-ahead from your pediatrician. They know your baby’s health up close and personal - AND they can help you rule out other factors that may be affecting your baby’s sleep like reflux, apnea, poor weight gain, allergies, and more.
So, there you have it. I’ve listed for you all of the most important factors to consider when trying to decide if your baby is ready for sleep coaching. If you want to continue to explore sleep coaching, you can join me for my FREE 5 Day Sleep Challenge. Along with daily video lessons and cheat sheets, the challenge includes access to a free Facebook group where I pop in frequently to answer your questions and help you along your journey. You can join by going to mommy-sos.com/5daychallenge
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Disclaimer: The information listed on this site is not a substitute for professional therapy or medical advice. If you are experiencing symptoms of postpartum or perinatal mental health disorders, please schedule an appointment with a therapist or doctor in your area. If you are in crisis, please call 911 or seek assistance from your local emergency room. Additionally, Postpartum Support International has a wealth of online information and local support for new parents. You can call their Helpline (1-800-944-4773) or text (503-894-9453) anytime for support. You are not alone.
As a maternal mental health and pediatric sleep expert, I am passionate about helping tired mamas thrive throughout the many seasons of motherhood. I'm a Nationally Certified Professional Life Coach and Masters Level Therapist specializing in parental mental wellness, marriage/partnership strength and pediatric sleep and soothing.
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